A Guide to Cape May, New Jersey
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Down the Shore
As a Midwesterner who didn’t have family on the East Coast, I knew nothing about New Jersey except for what was on TV or in Bruce Springsteen songs. So I knew the show Jersey Shore from the show. By the way, rewatching that show I think it worked because it kind of showed that it wasn’t where you were but who you were with. Honestly, it worked because all of those people were a little self-aware and they were genuinely having fun. The best times are when you live with your friends and everything you need is in a few miles in a place with a ton of wood paneling. Anyway, my Mom used to go down there for work and she absolutely loved it. It was one of her happy places and she wanted to take my sister and me there for years. Well, years passed and we decided to go there for a week and I have to be honest-it was awesome! It was completely different than I thought and we loved every second of it. We didn’t take advantage of this but the whole city can be traveled by bike. There are bike rentals everywhere. It reminded me of a college town with a beach. There was a lot of much-needed bonding and connections that needed to be strengthened. I mean, you get older right? My sister lives 2 states away and I miss her. It’s just a fact. It was our first family trip with in-laws and we have a lot of memories hanging out on a deck drinking wine in “resort wear” (more on that later). Oh, my two year old started talking and it was just kind of magical. I got a little tanned and my freckles are back. It was lovely and I have a ton of wonderful memories.
How I Travel
Heads up, not everyone travels the way I do and my family does. For example, we never went to Disney World. Why? Because we aren’t fans of heat, crowds, and people in mascot costumes can unnerve some members of my family. Not naming names, my sister Katy. So we always went to places where we could just go to the beach and eat. Seriously, that is how we do things. The older I get the more I love people watching and accessibility. I mean if you aren’t people watching and giving people names like “Eff the Riptide”, this old guy who just went in the water even though we weren’t supposed to and just swam, are you on vacay? Live your life Eff the Riptide! So this is a guide specifically for people with small children who would rather walk and love to eat.
We went to several beaches. The Cove, Sunset Beach, and we were really close to Jackson Street Beach. The beaches were lovely and not too crowded. We loved looking at the lifeboats with their Victorian script. My son was fascinated by the boats and when the lifeguards left for the day and moved it he was not happy. He got up and said “mahboat.” The lifeguards we saw were really professional and could surf. So it was nice to know that if people were too far out that someone was already surfing and could get them. They were really aware of what was going on. Have a kid who doesn’t like the ocean? My son loved playing in the sand and there were several places where you could rent beach umbrellas and chairs. Once you were ready to go home there were convenient places for people to wash the sand off of their feet. You forget how great it is to just go to a beach and listen to the water. It’s so nice to just walk in the waves as well. My sister and I went out like we were little and my husband and I discovered if you yelled “fight me ocean!” a huge wave would hit you. We took inspiration from Artie from Pete and Pete. The ocean is so calming even when it’s wild. The last day we went to Sunset Beach and looked out at the Atlantis. I guess the Atlantis was a concrete ship that the Navy sold and people tried to make a commercial ferry but it sank. So it’s a wreck off the shore. The wind just wailed and we got splashed by the water just trying to take pictures. It was beautiful out there. My Mom, sister, and I had a moment in the water that was just lovely and it was just a reminder of how much I love them. The Cove was just beautiful at sunset and you can see the lighthouse from it. We saw dolphins every day. It was beautiful. You would be on the beach and see them from afar and it was just beautiful. The first time I saw them I turned to a woman next to me and she was unimpressed. But dolphins!
Confession: in my original post about packing I neglected to import a truth-I get will get burned on the first day of vacation and my cute maxi dresses with cute necklines don’t cut it. So I was desperate for a good cotton shirt that covered my shoulders. We discovered Flying Fish and it had cute affordable things that I would definitely wear again. Seriously, it had the best prints on shirts of anywhere we went. I have a long sleeve tee that has a beautiful block print of a mermaid that I will be living in. I’m a picky person about design and there are a lot of things from a trip you can pick up that aren’t well designed. These supported local artists and were truly unique. The quality was high and they protected my sunburn. Again, get that after sun spray your skin just drinks it up.
This pedestrian mall is right by the beach and it’s adorable. It has a lot of cute stores with all kinds of things you would actually need. Like a beach hat with a string so it doesn’t fly off or lightweight pants because of the air conditioning in your rental. They also had a ton of adorable gift shops with curated lovely things. One of the star players on the Phillies right now is named Rhys Hoskins and my son’s name is Rhys. It was cute to see all these little kids in Harper and Hoskins shirts. I got our traditional travel Christmas ornament and things for my coworkers. The mall had ice cream- yes! It also has fountains in the middle of it so if you have a toddler who likes to throw coins in them and will be entertained- that’s your place. It was a nice place to hang out and we loved it. My husband and I went to Uncle Charley’s Ice Cream Shop, which was cash only. But it was so nice to hold hands, eat ice cream, and walk home from the beach. You can also enjoy an old fashioned ice cream soda at Dellas 5 & 10.
There was a deal at Cape May Miniature Golf that groups of five could play mini golf for $25. Our family signed up and it was a great way to spend a morning. We had a wonderful time and my son was just fascinated by everything. There are mini golf courses all over the shore. There was one we didn’t go to in Wildwoods that had the tag line “Where the Wild Things Par!” I liked it. It was a perfect amount of challenge but not too hard. You could do it with all kinds of people.
When we arrived at Beach Plum Farm my sister pointed out every angle of the place was Instagram ready and they were riding the zeitgeist of 2019. They had a “farm to table” ethos and my son loved seeing the animals roam free. You could feed the chickens and my son was a little afraid of them. We had an absolutely delicious lunch where I ate pickled rutabaga. I thought it was crazy but it really brought out the pickling spices. The cheese was incredible and the farm was gorgeous. My son was not only impressed with the farm itself but getting to watch farm equipment. The people who worked there were great. We also ate at the Beach Plum Bakery and it was delicious. We enjoyed the food and the vibe there. It is a great way to spend a morning and we were impressed that we could taste the food we saw at various local restaurants.
This was a lovely excursion for my family and it was free! If you have kiddos that love animals and most of their vocabulary is about animals. This is the place to be.
The Cape May Lighthouse is on a state park so you can go to a nature center and watch a whole bunch of birds. I love that kind of thing. I declined to climb up the lighthouse but it is a really fun thing to do with your family. I know there are people who love visiting lighthouses and I always think of that book series the Southern Reach Trilogy. It’s picturesque.
Food, food, and more food
Now for the piece de resistance: the food. If you have ever been with me anywhere you know how much I love food and eating out. The best part of traveling anywhere is the food and so restaurants are a big deal to me. Here are some of our faves:
Legit pancakes and a huge kid’s menu.
Sidebar- this was the least expensive place we ate at Cape May and one of the best lunches I have had in a minute. The food was incredible and I loved the side salad. It was on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Anthony Bourdain had been there
I shared an incredible lobster roll with my mother (it had a dill aioli) and there were tons of fish tanks for toddlers to look at. Also, they had a killer happy hour which we didn’t take advantage of. But we are talking about college town beer prices.
The awning says “Every day is a gouda day in Cape May” and the cheeses were incredible. We got three spreads pineapple, smoked salmon, and herb that were incredibly delicious. The next day I chopped up a cucumber, spread some of that smoked salmon spread on some crostini we bought there and baby, I had a meal.
My husband and I ate here for our fancy date night. It was great. It was also kids eat free night. So not only were there a bunch of kids, they also had a person dressed up as a blue pig. There’s a a picture of me with him below. Our date night was interesting. They also played a bunch of 80’s music really loud so I got to dance in my seat to The Fine Young Cannibals while waiting for my meal. I had scallops and with a bunch of roasted vegetables and it was delectable. The food was on point and it was worth what we paid.
Really good craft brew with a promotion on Saturdays called “show us your kitties” where you get a dollar off pints with cat pics. A promotion I can get behind.
I forgot to mention that Cape May was America’s First Resort Town. I was going to read about it but then, I have a kid and I didn’t have time. But people loved in the Victorian era so there are all these gorgeous houses. People stopped going there for a long time and then people realized the charm of the Victorian Era and it became fashionable again. It’s a beautiful city. Anyway, the Mad Batter is a Cape May institution in a hotel called the Carroll Villa. The house is gorgeous and it’s on this beautiful street filled with kept up old houses. I kept on saying it reminded me of the East Side of Madison. Anyway, the menu was wonderful and inclusive. There were vegetarian and vegan options and the food was incredible. I cook a lot so I kind of feel like i know when things are well made. Everything was well made and lovingly made. The chef had a lot of fun with the menu and the whole place had a “cool place for the locals” vibe. It wasn’t trying to be cool or hip. It was just a lovely colorful place by the sea which is really all you can ask for on the Jersey Shore.
Seriously Visit New Jersey!
I know most of my readers are from the Midwest. A lot of times, especially if you grew up in the western part of the Midwest the East Coast is really far away. But seriously, in Ohio it’s an 8 hour drive to get there. Yes, driving through Philly isn’t the easiest thing and Pennsylvania is a looonnnggg state but it’s worth it to go. My family loved it. It was everything I could want in a vacay and it was great for our family. Have you ever been down the shore? What do you think?